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The Chalice
Sunday, January 19 2020

The Journey of the Magi - T. S. Eliot

'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp.
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away and wanting liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

When I think of the traditional story of the magi in the gospel, I most often recall pageants, at least the ones my children were in. Camera at the ready, all was recorded for posterity, that is if the flash attachment worked accordingly. Fifty years ago, I didn't focus on the deeper implications; no T. S. Eliot version for me, nothing that would call into question all too easy associations that didn't raise any important responses. Way back then, my journey into Christ didn't encounter any obstacles, largely because it was rather superficial, an equation grasped easily, a life without doubts, and certainly no voices telling me that the journey “was all folly.” Following the star seemed a piece of cake, at least on Sunday mornings, for an hour, until I actually began to encounter the “three trees” of Golgotha, the “white horse” of John's apocalypse, the “vine-leaves” of the Eucharist, the soldiers at the foot of the cross “dicing for pieces of silver.” And more, certainly. The encounter altered the nature of my journey, changed the course of my life, a slow process accompanied by occasional perplexity, but in the end leading to a new life in a risen Lord that was much more rewarding as well as more demanding. What is the nature of your journey?

Fr. John+

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St. John's Episcopal Church
12 Prospect St. | Huntington, NY 11743 | PH: (631) 427-1752
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